Downtown stay is artsy and convenient
Los Angeles, California. Aside from the Big Apple, is there any other place
in America that might
legitimately call itself the Center of the Universe? In the case of Los Angeles,
it is the center of the entertainment universe and has more legitimate
movie stars per square inch than just about any other place on earth.
And so visitors come for the glamour and the glitz, for a chance to catch
sight of a star maybe just going to the supermarket or walking in quasi-designer
cut-offs and tee-shirts down Melrose Avenue. They come to see how movies are
made, how television shows are produced, to be thrilled by the area's amusement
parks and to soak up the endless sunshine on beaches populated by the most
beautiful people in the world.
On our most recent visit, we tried something different: setting up base camp
right in downtown Los Angeles, which of course is the hub of the Los Angeles
Basin with spokes heading in every direction for every kind of adventure you can
Checking in at the Omni Los Angeles, our "camp" was actually the lap of
luxury. This hotel is a modest size for downtown L.A. — just 17 stories — but
located right in the heart of downtown next to California Plaza's shops and
restaurants and just a short walk from many interesting sites. The rooms at the
Omni are tastefully modern, decorated in the tan, beige and subtle green
combination that you see in so many new houses these days. Rich mahogany
furniture, elegant lighting fixtures and chocolate velour couches contrast
nicely with the overall color scheme. In short, it's just what you might expect
in L.A. — luxurious and very up to date.
Like the "giants" of the Redwood forest, downtown L.A. has its own "Valley of
the Giants" — giant, mostly modern, gleaming buildings that will keep you
straining your neck as you constantly feel compelled to look skyward at these
products of man's ingenuity. With L.A.'s sunshine, the buildings reflect each
other, each one offering a different, fascinating visual pattern. And almost
none of these skyscrapers are elongated boxes — all the newer ones have angles
of some sort, all snugly placed alongside each other like some humongous
If you appreciate art and
design, it's a two-minute walk to the Museum of Contemporary Art with its
imposing "tree" of airplane and transportation parts greeting museum-goers at
the door. Or, it's another two minutes down the street to the Walt Disney
Theater, home of L.A.'s classical music and maybe the most unusual looking
structure in all of downtown with its billowy, non-linear angles. Sculptures and
other forms of artwork are sprinkled throughout the downtown area, leading one
to believe this is one very art-conscious city.
Of course no visit to L.A. would be complete without encountering some
movie-making. Most weekends we've been in the area, we've come across some sort
of movie shoot -- and this trip was no exception. A crew on a truck rigged with
a camera platform that lowered to almost road level was filming a vehicle "chase
scene" as it passed by our hotel.
Those who love movies and the Oscars will recall that, for years, the Academy
Awards were given out at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, another two-minute walk
from our hotel. In fact, the entire downtown civic center is nearby and this
part of Los Angeles would be an especially convenient place to stay if you
wanted to include a play or concert, or perhaps a game at Staples Center.
Back at the Omni Los Angeles, we discovered the hotel has dedicated a large
portion of its fourth floor to a spa and state-of-the-art exercise center. The
latter is probably a necessity if you indulge in dinner at the Omni's fine
dining restaurant, Noe, where you'll find award-winning "progressive American
While there is much in downtown Los Angeles to visit and enjoy, there are
also short excursions to such nearby places as Hollywood, Santa Monica, the
Getty Museum and so much more. Here are a few of our favorites:
When the Getty Museum first opened in 1997, the museum's parking and
transportation system were quickly overwhelmed to the point that anyone thinking
about visiting the museum had to make parking reservations months in advance.
Those unwilling to wait hoofed it for miles and then waited up to four hours
just to take a tram ride to the museum's spectacular hillside setting west of
downtown Los Angeles.
What a difference 10 years makes. Today no reservations are required and it's
possible to drive right to your parking spot, grab a tram and be on top of the
mountain just a few minutes after your arrival.
A trip to the Getty is like a quickie art seminar that will teach you just
enough names and buzzwords to make your friends believe you really are educated.
It's a great addition to any Southern California vacation.
If you're looking for the cool factor, it would be hard to beat Santa Monica,
a playground for L.A. TV and movie people that is all neatly compressed into 8.3
miles strategically bordered by the Santa Monica Mountains on one side and the
Pacific Ocean on the other.
The words "trendy" and "hip" seem to pop up a lot in the descriptions of the
some 400 restaurants packed into this little piece of real estate. Throw in a
few art galleries, some luxury hotels and — oh yes — celebrities and you have
the makings of an eye-popping diversion from your everyday hometown.
Of course Santa Monica has a gorgeous location. The views from Palisades Park
are breathtaking and take in not only the expansive beaches but such distant
features as Malibu on the north and even Catalina Island to the southwest. The
Santa Monica Pier is the dominant feature on the water's edge — and also over
the water -- and is a favorite for families.
La Brea Tar Pits
Close to downtown is the La Brea Tar Pits, one of the world's most famous
fossil localities. More extinct Ice Age plants and animals have been recovered
here than anywhere else on earth.
It's hard to imagine but here, just a few blocks south from glitzy Beverly
Hills, there were once such animals as saber-toothed cats and mammoths
roaming the area. The museum offers skeletal reconstructions of some of these
beasts while the surrounding area, Hancock Park, offers pathways around some of
the archeological dig sites as well as the tar pits.
The fossils collected at La Brea date back to between 10,000 and 40,000 years
ago. Nearly all of the skeletons on display in the museum are real fossil bones
found at the tar pits. Since 1906, more than one million bones have been
recovered from the La Brea Tar Pits representing 231 species of vertebrates.
Another 159 kinds of plants and 234 kinds of invertebrates have been identified.
Hollywood's definitely worth the short trip from downtown L.A. The famous
intersection of Hollywood and Vine really isn't all that appealing, although
there has been some major renovation in the area just in the past few years.
Hollywood at Highland — a great place to park, by the way -- is an impressive
new upscale shopping complex adjacent to Grumman's Chinese Theater (with its
foot and hand prints), and the Walk of Fame stretches from the complex on down
Hollywood Boulevard for several blocks.
It is interesting to watch the people who, in other cities, might be called
street performers. In Hollywood, they're movie characters with elaborate
costumes that lure unsuspecting tourists into taking pictures of them with their
arms, tentacles, paws or whatever wrapped around other tourists.
In this same area is the Kodak Theater, where the Academy Awards are handed
out each year. For only $15 a person, one can take a half hour tour of
AT A GLANCE
WHERE: Los Angeles is at the center of the entertainment universe, 400 miles south of San Francisco, 125 miles north of San Diego.
WHAT: A large, sprawling metropolitan city with enough interesting
attractions to keep you occupied for weeks.
WHEN: Anytime. Great year-round L.A. weather is legend.
WHY: There is something for everyone: culture, beaches, amusement parks,
fine dining, you name it.
HOW: For more information on Los Angeles, contact Los Angeles Convention
and Visitors Bureau at 213-689-8822 or visit
www.seemyla.com. For more information on the Omni Los Angeles at California
Plaza, please phone 1-888-444-OMNI or visit
Photos: Walt Disney Theater; reflections of downtown; filming in downtown L.A.; three-dimensional "puzzle" of buildings; a creation at the Museum of Contemporary Art is just outside the Omni Hotel
Photo credits: Cary Ordway, Sandi Ordway
OTHER DESTINATIONS: If you're looking for other California vacation
ideas, be sure to check out other California Weekend articles on
Yosemite National Park,